Merkel ally insult of Romanians, Chinese an internet scoop
In the “old days” of journalism, before the rise of the internet, an alert journalist might pick up on a politician’s gaffe in the middle of an election speech or somewhere on the campaign trail and publish or broadcast a story with the potential to change the dynamic of a race.
Nowadays, it could be instead the political opponent or citizen journalists armed with cell phone cameras or small hand-held cameras who can upset the applecart with a YouTube videos, blog or website report documenting a serious verbal blunder.
It’s a lesson that Juergen Ruettgers, the conservative state premier of Germany’s most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia and a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, has now painfully learned.
Ruettgers apologised late on Friday for insulting both Romanian workers and Chinese investors at a campaign rally in the depressed working class city of Duisburg late last month (story here) as the row over his remarks escalated. Ruettgers, who has a track record of statements criticised as xenophobic, suggested at the rally in Ruhr River industrial city that the Romanian work ethic was inferior to Germany’s and he also made derogatory remarks about Chinese investors.
It’s a video circulating on YouTube and internet — that also made it into the mainstream news broadcasts on Friday evening — that could embarass Merkel’s Christian Democrats ahead of the Sept. 27 election, where she is hoping to form a new centre-right coalition with the Free Democrats but holds only the slimmest of leads over three left-leaning parties in opinion polls.
Ruettgers’ comments were not mentioned after the rally in reports by local journalists, who according to Der Spiegel instead focussed their reports on local mayor Adolf Sauerland’s decision to wear sneakers instead of dress shoes at the rally with Ruettgers. But Ruettgers’ unorthodox views on Romanian workers and Chinese investors were recorded on film by the youth wing of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), who put the film clips on their website and YouTube (click here for video)
“Unlike the labourers here in the Ruhr region, the Romanian workers don’t come in to work at 7 in the morning and stay until the end of the working day,” Ruettgers is seen saying in complaining about a Finnish cell phone maker that moved 2,300 jobs from nearby Bochum to Romania last year. “Instead they just come and go when they want — and they simply don’t know what they’re doing.”
Ruettgers, standing on a stage with Sauerland and slipping into the local Rheinische dialect, also made some eyebrow-raising comments about potential Chinese investors: “And if all else fails, we’ll meet up in city hall with some Chinese people about some project. And if at the end of the day they still don’t want to invest in Duisburg, we’ll have to squeeze their throats until they see Duisburg is beautiful.”
The video took on a life of its own late this week — and at first Ruettgers’ campaign manager Hendrik Wuest accused the political opponents of taking the remarks out of context. Only later as the criticism from minority groups in Germany grew did Ruettgers send a statement late on Friday apologising: “I did not want to insult anyone and if I did I’m sorry,” Ruettgers said in this statement here.
PHOTO: Juergen Ruettgers and Chancellor Angela Merkel chat during a Christian Democrats (CDU) party congress. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch